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Mindful : October 2016
back into the community. But local residents, fearing the biodigester might explode, staged several protests and accused Fischer of caring more about a company from Indiana than his own constituents. In response, Fischer persuaded STAR BioEnergy to reconsider the project. In Fischer’s view, the process was successful because it got the community engaged. But he acknowledges that he needs to bridge the world of business and politics more effectively. “I’m about delivering good efficient services and helping people, but there’s a louder public policy platform around that as well,” he says. “Some politicians, that’s all they do. My style is to get results by getting things done, instead of just shouting about it with no follow-up. “Mayors have to deal with the way things are, and it’s a major contact sport. You either like that or you don’t . I find it really fascinating. The critical thing is to listen with an open mind and heart. Many people—especially the most disconnected and hopeless—aren’t used to that. They’re used to being judged and being seen as part of the problem. In my mind they’re a big part of the solution—and the beauty of the city.” In the early days, Tori McClure remembers going to compassion campaign meetings and wondering which Greg Fischer was going to show up. “ When he talked to volunteers,” she says, “he would put on his soft and fluffy side. Then we’d go talk to business people and he’d put on his hard-nosed business hat.” But now she believes “he’s developed a compassionate core that has led him to take stands that previ- ous mayors would never have taken.” Fischer isn’t a formal meditator. But what’s unique about him, says Owsley Brown III, “is his ability to listen to his heart in a big way. And he’s sharing that journey practically every day with anybody who wants to pay attention.” So far, it’s been an imperfect journey, as Fischer would be the first to admit. Still, one thing he’s certain about is that he’s done with being warm and fuzzy. “The biggest misconception people have about compassion is that it’s nice and soft and liberal,” he says. “ What we’re trying to do is to get everybody, individually and collectively, to reach their potential. That’s the biggest challenge of all. If we can achieve that, all of those other problems we have will go by the wayside.” ● That’s all well and good, say Fischer’s critics, but some wonder whether that message would be more appropriate coming from a pastor than a mayor. They also worry that he may be too closely aligned with business interests in the city to turn his call for compassion into effective public policy. Phillip Bailey, who covers metro govern- ment for the Louisville Courier-Journal, compares Fischer to New York City’s former mayor and media mog ul Michael Bloomberg. “He’s shown consistently that he comes from a business back- ground,” says Bailey. “ He doesn’t believe in old school bread-and-butter liberalism. And many of the conflicts he’s had on the left have been about what he would call ‘efficiencies.’” Bailey is quick to point out, however, that some of the resentment social justice advocates feel toward Fischer comes from the fact that he has hijacked one of their key talking points. “Because he’s a public official,” he says, “peo- ple expect him to do more than just talk about compassion, but to put it into policies, as well. I don’t think Fischer doesn’t care. I think he sees government from a business point of view.” Last year Fischer got caught in a firestorm over a proposed project to build an anaerobic biodi- gester in the West End. It sounded like a good idea. Not only would the project create jobs and convert waste into green energy, the developer, STAR BioEnergy, agreed to donate $5 million PHOTOGRAPH(TOP)BYWASHINGTONPOST/JABINBOTSFORD/GETTYIMAGES Above: Jason Aldabbi, right, and his brother Mohamad Eddin, playing on a bike in the hallway of their new home in Louisville. The Aldabbis fled Syria four years ago, and after living in refugee camps in Jordan finally arrived in the US with the help of the Kentucky Refugee Ministries. On facing page: Raesean Bruce, pictured with his three-year-old daughter Braylin Sandors, volunteers with Build-a-Bed, and has witnessed the impact of Louisville’s compassion campaign firsthand. “One family who got a bed simply broke out crying, out of happiness,” he recalls. “If you can believe it, they hadn’t had a bed in over two years.” Hugh Delehanty is a former editor for Sports Illustrated, People, Utne Reader, and AARP The Magazine and the co-author with NBA coach Phil Jackson of the #1 New York Times bestseller Eleven Rings. He profiled NBA meditation coach George Mumford in the February 2016 issue of Mindful. 70 mindful October 2016